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If you are into soap operas or period dramas or other dramas on TV, there is one thing in common with us all, I think, which is this: we all like a happy ending. That’s certainly the case for me, anyway. I really don’t like an unhappy ending or worse still, an ending that is really ambiguous that I don’t really understand. I get like that with Broadchurch or Silent Witness or whatever. I watch a whole series and then the final scene doesn’t give me the end I want or leaves me guessing or leaves me waiting for the next series to start. It’s so frustrating, isn’t it!!
It’s part of human nature to want a happy ending, to want happy ever after. It’s interesting how the Church has taken the story of Jesus’ resurrection and made it a happy ending. But, actually, that is not how it is written. Bizarrely, the resurrection story is not a happy one at all. Let’s run over the facts as Mark records them in his Gospel…
Jesus had suffered horrendous torture and an unimaginable death. And then his body is taken away by Joseph of Arimathea. And that’s a bit odd in itself because traditionally the family would have taken the body. But this stranger comes along and gets permission to take the body and the family are not included in the plans. Mary is completely sidelined. In chapter 15, it says: “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph were watching and saw where the body of Jesus was placed.”
And what about the disciples? Had they experienced a happy ever after ending? Far from it. The disciples were depressed and terrified and had run away: gone into hiding. As far as everyone was concerned – family and friends – Jesus was gone. End of story.
And then the Resurrection happens. “Alleluia”, we think…everyone is happy now. But no – look again at the story…
First, there is anxiety: verse 4, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”
Then, verse 5: “and they were alarmed”.
And finally verse 8: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.”
There is no alleluia in the story! Depression, fear, anxiety, alarm, distress, terror, fleeing from the scene. These are the words used to describe people’s response to the Resurrection. There was no spring in the step of anyone that first Easter morning; only fear, distress and confusion and an urge to get away as soon as possible.
And here is the incredible thing: these are the last words of Mark’s Gospel. There is no happy ending at all. This is it. This is how Mark concludes the Good News of Jesus Christ: “So they went out and ran away from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.”
You’d think he could come up with a better ending to his story than that! It’s the type of ending a scriptwriter for Silent Witness might be proud of – but not the Holy Scriptures, surely!
It’s completely bewildering. Surely Mark knew how much Good News the resurrection of Jesus was? Why did he end his account this way? Why does he end with an account of bewildered women, too scared to speak out the truth?
Well, let’s assume that he did have a good reason and let’s try to find out what it might be…
Mark’s account is action-packed: there is a lot of movement here. The women, at the start of the story are moving towards the tomb. At the end of the story, they are moving, rapidly, away from the tomb. But the women are not the only people on the move in this story…
They had come here to find Jesus but the young man says to them in verse 6: “Jesus has been raised. He is not here. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee.” Jesus is on the move too! He’s gone: on his way to Galilee. So, if the women wanted to see him again, they needed to get on the move too.
And there’s something beautiful for us here; a beautiful twist to the story as Mark tells it…
Jesus has gone ahead of them to Galillee. Haven’t we heard that somewhere before in Mark’s Gospel? We have. And to find it, we need to leave behind these final words of the Gospel and go right back almost to the first words…Mark 1:9: “Not long afterwards, Jesus came from Nazareth in the province of Galilee…”
Do you see what Mark is telling us? He’s saying this…You have read through the Gospel, from beginning to end, you have read the stories of healings and miracles, you have read the parables and all the wondrous events of Jesus’ life – and now the Resurrection has happened and now we need to go right back to the beginning again and reflect on it all in the light of the Resurrection. And in the light of the cross and resurrection, we will find new meanings and new applications for our lives. And when we get to the Resurrection again, we need to go back to the beginning again. And so on and so on…
Mark is constantly taking us on this circular route; always bringing us back to the one who has gone ahead of us, always bringing us back to Galilee.
When we think we have finally caught up with Jesus, he is on the move again – and so the chase continues. Onwards and onwards: like playing a game of catch.
Jesus is always on the move…
And of course, that is the beauty of following the church calendar and the seasons of the church year, as we do here at St. Andrew’s. Because, every year, we are brought back to Galilee and the story begins again. And this time, we apply it differently to our lives because we are different people too. So long as we think we have understood the story, we haven’t really got it at all: we need to go back to the beginning again and see what fresh insights God wants to give us. Every time we get to the end of Mark, we are told to go back to square one, go back to Galilee, and experience the miracles of grace again and again and again.
And as we do that, as we keep moving on, chasing Jesus, trying to catch up with him, so we will experience that grace in our lives and deepen our knowledge of what resurrection is really about.
You see, the resurrection is not some static story that happened in history 2000 years ago. The resurrection is a dynamic movement – an experience of grace that each one of us is called into again and again and again.
And none of us are left out of this. God wants to reveal his resurrection power to each one of us.
Well, you may be here this morning and you may think, “That’s alright for him to say: he’s got a dog-collar on! If he knew about my past, or what was in my mind, or the secret things of my life, he wouldn’t be so sure that God’s grace was for me.”
Well you’d be wrong! And here’s how I know…
Look again at the words of the young man to the women…“But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee”.
“Tell his disciples and Peter…”
It is so significant that Peter gets singled out by name. No disciple had failed Jesus as much as Peter. No-one had fallen as short as Peter had. No-one felt as bad as he did. And yet Peter is singled out: “Go and tell the disciples and Peter…”
This is a clear sign that even Peter was forgiven by God. He had been singled out for God’s grace. And the message is clear: if even Peter can be forgiven, then there is no sin too big for God to deal with.
There is nothing that you and I have ever done in the past that God cannot forgive. There is no shameful secret that cannot be brought before God that needs to remain hidden from his glorious, grace-filled light. Whatever your past – whatever your present situation – God can forgive anything. Absolutely anything.
He can forgive Peter: he can forgive even you: he can forgive even me.
OK, I think we are getting closer now to answering the question we started with…Why does Mark end his Gospel like this? Why does Mark end the Gospel so enigmatically, with the women running away – afraid to tell anyone about what has happened?
Actually, I think the answer is really simple…
It’s because Mark’s Gospel isn’t finished.
The Good News of Jesus Christ can’t end in silence. Mark is waiting for you and me to finish the story!! He is waiting for you and me to go out and tell people the Good News.
The women in the story run away in silence – but someone has to proclaim the Gospel, someone has to continue the Gospel. It’s up to you and me to complete the story…
I said earlier that the resurrection is a story about dynamic movement: the women are moving, Jesus is moving. Now the question is this: how are we moving in this story? Are we going to run away and hide in silence, knowing that Jesus has been raised from the dead but too frightened to tell anyone about it? Or are we going to complete the story and go out to proclaim the Good News of the resurrected Christ to the people of Enfield and a wider world in need?
If we won’t – who will?
The young man in the story presents each one of us with an incredible challenge as we sit here this morning: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised. He is not here.”
This is the truth of the resurrection. This is the truth of the Easter Story.
The truth is that Jesus has moved on. He has gone ahead of us. Our task is to play catch up: to chase after him. He is going back to Galilee. And we need to follow him there.
We need to go back to the beginning. We need to soak ourselves in the Scriptures. We need to soak ourselves, again and again, in a profound personal experience of Jesus – his healing for you, his miracles for you, his life-changing teaching for you. And we need to proclaim our experience to a broken world.
The resurrection is not the end of the story. We need to finish it.
In the Celtic Christian tradition, the symbol for the Holy Spirit is a wild goose. And it’s a beautiful symbol because no matter how carefully you might creep up behind a wild goose and try to catch it and tame it, it will always fly away from you.
Jesus is like that too. We cannot tame Jesus and turn him into a ‘happy ever after’ story. We must each spend our lives chasing him and following where he leads.
We are not on a wild goose chase. We are chasing the wild goose. And there is a huge difference between the two…
And so, this morning, we don’t shout “Alleluia” because the story has ended. We shout “Alleluia” because the story continues – and you and I are partnering with God as the scriptwriters.
Where will you take the story from here? It’s up to you…